Submission by Mid Ulster Victims’ Empowerment Management Committee, 2c Park Avenue, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone BT80 8AH to EQIA of Draft Irish Language Policy for Mid Ulster Council
Mid Ulster Victims’ Empowerment was set up in 2012 by a dedicated group of volunteers in the Mid-Ulster area. It is a registered charity. This submission represents the thoughts and concerns of our 500+ members and their extended families.
MUVE main aim is to offer help and support to innocent victims affected by the Troubles within Mid-Ulster. MUVE provides services, advice, and support to individuals, families and groups in order to promote well-being and prevent isolation.
We also react to our members’ concerns; this Irish Language Policy impacts on us because we are not of the Irish community; our members’ culture is Ulster-Scots and British; we have many ex-service men and women in our membership, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, both able-bodied and disabled. All members feel strongly the bias of this policy.
We have looked at the Equal Impact Assessment preliminary conclusions and recommendations and the Section 75 duties.
We understand that this consultation is to determine the “…extent of the likely differential impact in terms of equality of opportunity upon groups within the nine equality categories set out in Section 75 of the NI Act 1998.”
We have analysed our members’ concerns and in this submission concentrated on those which concern us directly – (equality of opportunity between persons of different religious belief, political opinion, persons with a disability.)
The following are our concerns and conclusions:
- Firstly, we note that the new Council intends to “… focus its scheme on …(equality of opportunity) and to address the second duty (good relations) elsewhere…” Initially this seemed an odd statement, considering that good relations should surely be uppermost in the new Council’s considerations as it implements cultural changes. On re-reading, it seems actually to negate everything which follows, because it was such a blindingly arrogant and blatantly discriminatory brush-off. It would at least have been advisable to give a timescale for addressing Ulster-Scots and British cultural issues to give even the appearance of balance
- We note that the Irish Language policy will go ahead regardless, with simply alternative ways of delivering it “… which have a less adverse impact on the relevant equality category…”. This concerns our members because we are being given the clear message that we have no alternative but to endure a full-on bombardment; this consultation is simply to refine the bombardment technique, not to address genuine concerns.
Addressing our main concerns on Irish Language enforcement:
Equality of Opportunity between persons of different religious belief and persons of different political opinions:
- MUVE recognises the good intentions of Mid-Ulster Council in addressing the cultural needs of the Irish community: we believe however that the explanation of the reaction to the supposed ‘need’ is not satisfactory, based as it is on the wording of the St Andrew’s Agreement and European Charter. The phrases which stand out in these are:
“where appropriate…”, ” where the people so desire it …” and “according to the situation of each language…”. The measures listed for implementation appear to be beyond “appropriate” and obviously not where the majority of the people “…so desire it …” Furthermore, there is in fact no statutory compulsion for a local authority to get involved in this at all. We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Our members do not understand the over-riding urgency of the Irish language policy and this has not been fully explained. With respect to the whole implementation section, the overall “needs” of the 17.41% Irish speakers should be clearly explained to the 82.59% non-Irish speakers and the resources to pay for these “needs” should be clarified. We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Our members feel that, whilst the Irish language is obviously important to those of the Irish culture, its use all over supposedly ‘shared spaces’ is blatant intimidation to those of Ulster culture, Ulster-Scots or British (see also point 8). We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Let us reiterate, we do fully understand and support the ideals of cultural diversity; we do fully understand and support the language rights of minorities; what we do not understand is why the Irish language per se carries such urgency and weight. There is a low 17.41% quoted as having “…some ability in Irish, compared with 10.65% of the Northern Ireland population as a whole”. This is not an explanation for the expenditure to be applied and ill-feeling generated on this small part of a single culture. How, where and by whom was the decision made that 17.41% represented a “need” rather than an aspiration? How, where and by whom was the decision made to elevate the Irish language above all other cultural needs and aspirations? We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Our members therefore also question whether 17.41% represents a baseline for other cultural needs? Or is it that language is more important than any other aspect of a culture? Are we to assume that the linguistic aspects of any and all cultures are to be elevated to top of the list? Will this apply to Ulster-Scots issues, whether the Ulster-Scots or indeed British culture has linguistic needs or not? Will we have to push for costly road signs and council translations, not because we want them, but because it is the only recognition we can get? Because ‘shared spaces’ have to be filled out with so many words they are no longer spaces? We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Our members feel that the current obsession with the Irish language will highlight the Irish culture in an adverse way for good relations and create further divisions, where we wish diversity recognised with equality. The Irish culture, the Ulster-Scot and wider British cultures all have many aspects which might benefit from council focus and to select one (a single language only) in isolation is perceived as divisive, discriminatory and offensive by our community. We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Where implementation of the policy is concerned, particularly through the Council corporate image, our members believe strongly that the push for the Irish language is mainly by Sinn Fein and other nationalists. The language is being used as a political weapon by them to create a greater division between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom and to blur the differences between ourselves and the Republic of Ireland. As mentioned above, the council has, in fact, no obligation in any of the policies or agreements to act so aggressively for the Irish language; it is choosing to do so simply because it thinks it can. To quote Danny Morrison “Every word spoken in Irish is another bullet in the freedom struggle” We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Our members perceive that Irish is also being used as a weapon of mass exclusion, in that the language, through its use by council workers, for example, will accentuate the differences between political and religious groupings. As some of our members are council workers, they have a detailed insight into Sinn Fein’s intentions and perceive them to be culturally and religiously brutish as well as costly and unnecessary. We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Our members feel excluded from the council remit, in that, despite tongue-in-cheek denials, it is clear that jobs will be affected in the future for those who want to work for the council but who do not speak Irish; providing them with Irish classes is offensive and demeaning to their own culture. Especially as the document notes that “…there is no guarantee that the council will be able to deliver a service of comparable quality to Irish speakers.” So they may be offered classes in bad Irish. It might seem more sensible, inclusive and inexpensive to teach proper English those people whose first language is Irish. The jobs concerned will obviously go to those who have come through the Roman Catholic school system. We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Our members (part of the majority of 82.59% who do not have “… some ability in Irish …”) feel that the sensitivities of the minority 17.49% might be equally catered for with translations supplied on request, rather than bilingual material ubiquitously spewed out despite the cost. This would also follow through with the spirit of the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages which specifies that such minority languages are used“… according to the situation of each language…”
It would make it unnecessary to place English and Irish side by side in correspondence and would save resources. It would also therefore become unnecessary to place the Irish above the English version and the linguistic needs of a mere 17% of the council population over the apparently unimportant 80%. We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
- Our members have read and understood in the EQIA summary that the main benefit of the Irish Language policy will be to the Roman Catholic community; we do not have a problem with other denominations or religions, as our membership come from both religious communities. We do have a big problem with explaining the cherry-picking of employees in this discriminatory way. It is simple and blatant bigotry. It is another example of the Irish language being used to differentiate one religious community from another, one political affiliation from another. Furthermore, to add to this the explanation that “… it can be argued that those with little knowledge of Irish will potentially benefit in the longer term from exposure to a new language.” is both patronising and shameful. It can only be answered with the Ulster-Scot phrase “Aye, right.” We feel in this that our religious, political and cultural beliefs are not being accorded equality of opportunity
Addressing our main concerns:
Equality of Opportunity between persons with a disability and persons without:
A high percentage of MUVE members are ex-services and victims and survivors of both religious communities who have suffered in violent incidents such as attempted murder, bombings and various attacks by Republican terrorists during the ‘Troubles’. Many have lost close family members to Republican terrorists. We have a very high percentage of people suffering physical and mental disablement and associated problems of social isolation and exclusion. These members have made the following points on the consultation:
- They share the general view that the Irish Language policy is a main part of the nationalist agenda and particularly that of Sinn Fein, simply because it is completely divisive in the community. As previously mentioned, this is not a necessary division, as the council does not legally need to embark on this onslaught. The percentage of the council population apparently ‘needing’ this policy implemented is tiny, whilst the damage to community relations will be insurmountable. Many elected Sinn Fein members admit to being IRA. Our disabled members believe the sole purpose of the Irish Language policy and its promotion is not cultural but simply political. They believe this consultation is only a paper exercise to appear to soften the mental damage to our cultural needs. They wish the consultants involved in the report – and the world in general – to realise that Danny Morrison’s words bear remembering because they are still valid: “Every word spoken in Irish is another bullet in the freedom struggle”. We feel implementation of this Irish language policy accords no equality of opportunity between our members with a disability and those now in power without a disability, because it is a continuing attack of their mental fragility
- Our disabled members feel intimidated by the overwhelming use of the Irish language because they have previously heard it used in IRA recordings of IRA funerals, in abusive and violent situations where they were trying to maintain law and order and with triumphalism when convicted murderers took political office. They are very aware that it was previously taught in the jails to the Republican prisoners, to give them a sense of identity and that its spread is seen as an IRA/Sinn Fein triumph. They see it as contaminating our ‘shared spaces’ and intended to exclude them. The mental anguish and sense of isolation that the whole issue stirs up cannot be overstated. Yet the community relations aspect (which the document admits is a statutory duty) is pushed off for another day. It is clear to them that any chance of Equal Opportunity between themselves and persons without disability has been destroyed by Sinn Fein, the very people, with the very agenda they see today being implemented by the Mid Ulster Council. ”. We feel implementation of this Irish language policy accords no equality of opportunity between our members with a disability and those now in power without a disability, because it is a continuing attack of their mental fragility
- Mid Ulster District Council’s vision of “…a united community, based on equality of opportunity, the desirability of good relations and reconciliation – one which is strengthened by its diversity, where cultural expression is celebrated and embraced and where everyone can live, learn, work and socialise together, free from prejudice, hate and intolerance’ cannot happen if the Irish language policy continues to be forced through. There is, apparently, no room for discussion of other cultural needs, just a frantic race towards the Irish language – and, as the consultation document concedes, probably bad Irish at that. Our disabled members feel the whole slant of the consultation is re-creating the intimidation, threats and mental and physical pain our community of law-abiding Ulster people suffered during and after the ‘Troubles’. We feel implementation of this Irish language policy accords no equality of opportunity between our members with a disability and those now in power without a disability, because it is a continuing attack of their mental fragility
Summary of MUVE submission
The Irish language policy is being slammed in our faces because European legislation can be quoted; it apparently does not matter that it is not fully or equally applied; it apparently does not matter that it is not, in fact, a statutory duty for councils. The consultation does not attempt to supply or seek an answer to the following:
- Why implementation of the Irish Language policy seems more important than the healing process after the ‘Troubles’? Why is it more important than community relation? Why is it worth stirring up animosities in our Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist communities and re-creating the intimidation, threats and physical pain endured by our innocent victims and survivors?
Why is the Irish language more important than any other part of any other shade of Ulster culture?
- Where the balance is which we have been promised in the Council’s vision? Where is the evidence (not the vague reference in a footnote) that the Ulster-Scots language has cultural importance? Where is the idea that Ulster culture can be more fully explored and celebrated? Do we have to push the Ulster-Scots language to get equality of culture, even though the needs of the two cultures are different?
- Where is the money coming from to change signs, employ translators, rebrand documents, run classes, interpret forms? In times of austerity, in an area which suffered badly in the ‘Troubles’ and has a legacy of bereaved families and traumatised and scarred individuals, where is the understanding that divisive policies such as the Irish language policy should be far down the line?
MUVE does not agree that the full range of relevant information has been quoted or analysed; it does not agree that the correct adverse impacts have been correctly set out or analysed; it does not agree that there are any mitigating recommendations; it does not agree that this consultation report has been properly researched, set out or will be properly analysed. In fact, MUVE does not agree with either the Irish Language policy or the whole tone of the consultation document, both of which are divisive and pointless.